Sermon for Year A, The Great Vigil of Easter
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
April 19, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Here is a little of Matthew from just before this reading.
Keep in mind, Jesus has died on the cross
And his body has been taken down and placed in the tomb. So:
“The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate
And said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor [Jesus] said while he was still alive,
“After three days I will rise again.”
Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day;
Otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people,
“He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’
Pilate said to them, ‘[Take] a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you [know how].’
So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.”
Then we get this:
“And suddenly there was a great earthquake;
For an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.”
“The guards shook and became like dead men”‽ What, for real‽ These guys?
These men were like the Navy SEALs of their day.
They’d seen every strange thing life could throw at them.
They were trained and paid to stand strong in the face of any circumstance, and fight, fight hard --
Die if necessary, and if they had been stationed in Jerusalem, you can bet they’d earned their salt,
Probably seen and even spilled quite a bit of blood already
Just trying to keep order in the place, ... or done worse, maybe a lot worse, with their power ...
Yet they were men first, soldiers second; they were humans, after all;
And their humanity betrayed their need to stand tough.
So there is no deception on the part of disciples, stealing away bodies in the night;
There is only the self-deception of the guard;
There is only the self-deception of Pilate.
There is only our own self-deception:
That we can ever really see it all,
Know it all,
There is only the deception that our armor -- whatever it is -- is tough enough to keep God out
Or that our weapons will keep the angel from singing its news;
Will keep Jesus in the tomb, will keep God out of our lives.
Peter Drucker was a famous management consultant.
He liked to ask two provocative questions, and he asked them together, at the same time:
What business are you in? And How’s business?
Tonight we get a little glimpse of the business God is in.
God is in the Reaching Out business, the Transforming business,
The Redeeming-What-Was-Lost business,
The Making-Life-Out-Of-Death business,
The business of Forgiveness,
The business of Loving You, Loving Us, No Matter What.
Tonight we also got a glimpse of the answer to the second question:
“How’s business?” Business is great!
I mean, ...
Do we really think our feeble little shields and swords and our world-weary postures
Can keep the God of All Creation from extending complete forgiveness and love?
Do we really possess the hubris as to believe that the reality of Jesus’ bursting from the tomb
Isn’t going to change things for ever? Indeed, they are changed already.
Will we, like the soliders who witnessed the lightninglike angel firsthand,
Allow ourselves to be shaken?
Will we be shaken? We will!
The resurrection of Jesus whom we call Christ is an invitation to be shaken to the core.
To be taken way past our ability to neatly explain how everything happens.
To be shaken past speaking.
This is fields beyond words and fields beyond fields beyond human comprehension.
All we can ever do is dot the edges of it with our limited understanding.
We need get out of our heads, at least for one night, and stop thinking we have all the answers.
We need a good dose of the nonrational -- that After Death Comes Life -- no, really!
That the impossible is in fact possible.
That Jesus’ resurrection is the redemption of you and me and us and this whole creation.
Now there’s a shakedown in the best sense.
You may remember that there is even such a thing as a branch of Christians
Called Shakers; and another called Quakers.
Folks who allowed, as the Spirit of God rested upon them, to be moved beyond words, to act,
And to come into the world so fully as to say,
What matters in the eyes of God is to live as simply as possible
So that we can concentrate upon our spiritual abundance.
They shook, and they quaked; they got beyond themselves;
They saw with clear eyes the lightninglike angel for themselves
Declaring an empty tomb and a path to Galilee to meet up with the resurrected Jesus.
It was 1837, the beginning of the Era of Manifestations
During our country’s Second Great Awakening.
Revivals and Camp Meetings spread over the face of our expanding continent.
F.W. Evans was an enthusiastic biographer of the Shakers. He was shaken himself! He wrote,
“The wonderful and almost incredible openings of light and truth
Pertaining to this and the external spiritual world,
And which address themselves almost exclusively to the external man,
By sensuous facts and physical demonstrations,
And which, in former times and other ages, were suppressed and condemned,
As the effect of unlawful communings with the powers of darkness,
Are now being received with joy and gladness by thousands of person,
As proof of a telegraphic communication established between the two worlds;
And no more to be disputed or doubted
Than is the existence of that marvelous submarine telegraphic cable
That connects the Eastern and Western continents.”
He saw an irresistible thread running to heaven, and claimed to have taken hold of it for himself,
To listen in.
One hundred thirty-six years later, in 1973, they made the Shakertown Pledge:
“In responsibility, joy, and celebration, I make the following declarations:
- I declare myself a world citizen.
- I commit myself to lead an ecologically sound life.
- I commit myself to lead a life of creative simplicity and to share my personal wealth with the world's poor.
- I commit myself to join with others in the reshaping of institutions in order to bring about a more just global society in which all people have full access to the needed resources for their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth.
- I commit myself to occupational accountability, and so doing I will seek to avoid the creation of products which cause harm to others.
- I affirm the gift of my body and commit myself to its proper nourishment and physical wellbeing.
- I commit myself to examine continually my relations with others and to attempt to relate honestly, morally, and lovingly to those around me.
- I commit myself to personal renewal through prayer, meditation, and study.
- I commit myself to responsible participation in a community of faith.”
This tells me that they did in fact allow themselves to be nonrational, to be shaken down;
That they did in fact take hold of the irresistible thread connecting heaven and earth;
That they did in fact listen in to that thread, and take action from what they heard, maturely,
And they did not exempt themselves from the world’s problems.
They left their armor and their pretension at the site of the empty tomb,
As useless to them as the sepulcher was to the risen Christ,
And they ran on ahead to Galilee to meet up with Jesus.
Because the message of the angel was still true, the angel was still proclaiming it,
And it had shattered all their expectations and their self-ordered lives.
God was in the midst of them, kindling them, central to them,
Stirring them up in the Spirit. So as it was, and as it was, it is now.
Now -- out of fear and respect and love for each of you, and for us -- let me ask you:
As a Christian, as a follower of Jesus,
What business are you in? ...
And How’s business?
Are you shaken yet?
The angel of the Lord is upon us, administering the balm of reconciliation with God in Christ,
And proclaiming the incomprehensible truth
That in Jesus, All is Forgiven and We Are Loved, and the grave is empty.
We don’t have to understand that, because the truth is,
No matter how much we try, We can’t. We’ll never get that in our heads.
We just have to live it. That’s all.
Now, “to the only wise God our Saviour,
Be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”